Interview – veteran DJ and producer Ashley Beedle
We caught up with the self proclaimed ‘Gentleman Rudeboy’ and underground legend that is Ashley Beedle ahead of his appearance for a four hour set at Distrikt this Saturday. We spoke about producing reggae records, pushing the envelope with a new release with Zed Bias, and what guides his eclectic musical taste.
So you’re playing in Leeds this Saturday. Have you had many DJ gigs in Leeds before?
I used to do quite a few back in the day. You know, like Back To Basics, especially when I was with X-Press 2. But I don’t play in Leeds very often these days, I think the last time I played was with Jacob from E.A.R Records, somewhere outside the town centre. It was in the winter, I think we got snowed in!
You’re set to play a four hour set at Distrikt on Saturday right?
Nowadays I don’t like to do less than two hours, really, I just find it a pointless exercise. A four hour set is perfect, because you can very much just warm up for yourself. So yeah, I’m looking forward to that.
Do you think people are more open to eclectic selections in clubs at the moment, with genres becoming more blurred of late?
I can say that from my perspective, definitely. But then… it’s what I kind of do anyway. I rarely get to be genre specific in what I do, really, which is quite nice. And I think people do expect from me, pretty much, that he’s gonna throw in a couple of left turns here and there. The bottom line for me is that it’s all about dancing.
Distrikt is a very small club too, so it possibly lends itself to that style of DJing as well.
Yeah exactly, which is kind of the preferable venue for me, really. I don’t mind playing bigger places, don’t get me wrong, but you do lose something once you get over four or five hundred people, you start to lose a bit of flow with it, I think.
Despite the variety of the music that you produce and play, could you put a finger on what aspect of music it is that interests or inspires you?
I think, for me… I’m not a noise man. It’s pretty well documented that I do love Hüsker Dü, they’re one of my favourite bands, but even within their noise, there’s melody, there’s something going down there which has attracted me to it. For me, there’s got to be a strong melodic input into whatever track I’m playing, really. And I do love playing a good song as well, if it’s got some decent meaning to it. I think that’s what’s important, a strong melodic input, and a good bassline, a very good bassline. I do love my bass.
“I think that’s what’s important, a strong melodic input, and a good bassline, a very good bassline. I do love my bass.”
Have there been any places or parties which have been particularly special for you over the years?
I think Japan’s always very special to me. I haven’t been over there for a couple of years, but there always seems to be a bit of magic in the air when you play over there. Also just recently, I do these nights called Heavy Disco, and we did one in Brighton and that was a very special party. That was just one of those moments when you think that’s what it’s all about, you know what I mean? You catch it, you just catch it in the air [laughs]. It was actually at a beach bar, funnily enough, owned by Norman Cook. It’s like a restaurant and bar in the day and in the evening they hire it out for wedding functions and all that. I kind of liked the shape and the size of it. We put up an additional marquee as well, because it was in the summer on the August bank holiday. It was one of the best parties, really. It was fantastic.
And you actually recently moved to Brighton didn’t you?
I moved here in June, yeah. I’m getting to that age where I just wanna be by the sea. We kind of grew out of London, really. Brighton seemed a good choice to go, there’s some good people in Brighton, and it’s a bit more of a close knit scene. I’ve known a lot of the crew down here for a hell of a long time. It’s London by the sea, really!
You mentioned the Heavy Disco night you do, and you also recently put out a Heavy Disco 12”. What do you think about the resurgence of interest in classic disco and house?
Well I think it’s gonna happen. What happens is that it’s cyclical, so a lot of the younger crowd are wanting to discover what the hell these records are, so they kind of go back on themselves. And I’ve always said that if you don’t get your past, you’re probably not locked into the future. I think it’s really good to get a lot of the influences. I do anyway, and then to use that to create something that’s in the here and now.
How do you approach using those influences while still doing something that is new?
I don’t know… for me personally, when I’m in the studio, I don’t look back in some ways. I know that the records are classic, and if I’m gonna use something, a line or a melody from an old tune, I tend to replay it these days. I don’t use many samples, as such. They’re just a great basis for informing your music, you know. I use Logic, and the sounds that you can get now, you can twist things up anyway. So you’re using the element to create something new, by not necessarily just taking the bassline and looping it up. I always feel now, it’s just better to replay it, or do an interpolation of it, if you like.
Do you do the majority of your production on the computer, using Logic?
No, we use a lot of outboard gear. I don’t do a lot of my recording on the computer entirely. The computer’s used more for editing and arrangement. We have a fair number of synths. I use this particular drum pad. called a Roland Handsonic 10, where, because I play percussion, I pretty much play my own loops, I’ve found that gives it less of a rigid feel.
“I can honestly say that I’m not very good on my own in the studio. I get far too introspective, it’s always good to bounce off somebody.”
On Record Store Day you had a mix of The Police out with DJ Harvey. What was the story with that?
Yeah, it’s a funny one that, because when that remix came through, everyone was like “Ashley’s done this mix of The Police”. It’s actually a very old mix. All I can say is that, that Record Store Day release, I don’t know where it’s come from, really. It was a little bit gutting, with Harvey’s people calling, “Oh have you done this mix?”. But we hadn’t done this release at all. I actually contacted Harvey, seeing if we could license it at all. But I think someone out there just had the idea. There’s two ways of looking at it, you can either be really offended or really flattered and I just like to think I’m really flattered.
You also recently did a remix of Azymuth as Yambee. How do you go about choosing which remixes to do, particularly with classic tracks like this?
I get offered quite a lot of remixes, still, and I turn down a lot, believe me. With the Azymuth, when we did the reworking of ‘Jazz Carnival’, it was myself and Yam Who. What we really did is restructure it, really, and just move the tempo down slightly and made it a bit more house-y, I think, is the best description for it. We just tried to avoid losing the Brazilian quality of it. But we got a lot of props for that, so I was very happy. Because they can be difficult, those ones, because there’s a lot of purists out there who can be saying “Leave that track alone”, you know?
Another release which you recently had out was the Yardism EP last year.
Yeah well there’s a Yardism Vol. 2 which is actually dropping in a few weeks as well, that has two tracks that I’ve done with Zed Bias, which was a natural move, really, because of what the whole Yardism concept is. And there’s another track which I didn’t do with Phil Asher but which is definitely inspired by Phil. And it was just the next step up, so I’m really chuffed with the new one, I think we’ve pushed it forward.
The Yardism stuff seems like one of the most forward looking projects which you’ve worked on recently. Do you have any plans to work on more releases in that vein?
Well at the moment we’re talking to a small label called Greta Cottage Workshop about doing an Africans On Mars mini album project, so that’s probably gonna be very forward, in terms of how people listen to it. That’s going to be interesting.
I just think that I’m at a time where I’m not that bothered about having to comply any more, so I tend to just get on with things and just say yeah, this is nice. I’ve just finished some work with producing Rob Gallagher and his Earl Zinger project for a new track called ‘Ghost Dancer’. It’s not out yet but I think we’re just going to test the water and put out a couple of hundred just to see how it goes. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback on that. Gilles Peterson’s dropped it twice, Lauren Laverne on 6 music, and we’ve had a lot of people asking us when it’s coming out. We’re just getting some mixes done from LV and once that’s done, we’re probably gonna put it out on a 12.
All of these new projects you mention involve collaborations, and many of your releases in the past have been collaborations as well. Do you think there’s a reason for that?
I get lonely in the studio [laughs]. No it’s more the case that I just love collaborating. I can honestly say that I’m not very good on my own in the studio. I get far too introspective, it’s always good to bounce off somebody. Years ago, when I did Black Jazz Chronicles on Nuphonic, a lot of that was done on my own, obviously with my engineer and stuff, but a lot of the tracks I approached from my own perspective. And it was a good album, but I found it very difficult in terms of getting the tracks down and getting it done, and eventually I had to bring the engineer in, to say “well you can take that track, and you can leave that track”. I still needed to have someone to give me an outside perspective.
How do you judge who you want to collaborate with, who you think you’ll be able to work with?
They’ve just got to be on the same planet as me. A lot of it comes from just conversation. We tend to usually like the same stuff, even maybe if musically they’re over there and I’m over here, that doesn’t really matter, there is some common ground we’ve found to want to work together.
“All of a sudden there was this real kind of heavy, sparse sound coming through which I really love, which has informed a lot of what I do now.”
A few years back you collaborated with Horace Andy and this year you had that Warbox 7” for Record Store Day where you reworked some reggae classics. Has reggae been something that’s always figured into your musical background?
It’s interesting, because there’s a side of me which people don’t pick up on, i.e. the reggae aspect. I come from reggae soundsystem culture, and I’m quite heavily involved in production. I work with Dave Hill, who used to be in The Ballistic Brothers, and me and him work on a lot of reggae projects together. We did The Wailers’ ‘Get Up Stand Up’, and we’ve done done a new track for Cornell Campbell on Strut. They’re all very much out and out reggae records. But I suppose there’s not enough time in the day to publicise every part of what I do and the fact that I produce reggae music, I just get it out there. But the nice thing is that a lot of people will pick up on it at a later date and I’ll get a nice e-mail or a text saying “Oh I didn’t realise you worked on that record”.
How do you view the dancehall side of things in reggae culture?
I like the stuff that happens rhythmically within dancehall but I’m kind of on the fence as to how dancehall is today. You know, they’re trying to make a living and it’s getting married a lot with the American R&B stuff and even, dare I say it, the three letter word, EDM [laughs],that’s creeping in. But then again, dancehall has always been about taking the new. I’m not gonna sit there and gripe about it, it’s just not necessarily my vibe.
Where I come from, there’s a period which I love which is the 80s and part of the 90s. I love my 70s reggae, I love that for forever and a day, but where I feel the production was really doing it for me was probably the 80s, with Sly and Robbie and Roots Radics and people like that. All of a sudden there was this real kind of heavy, sparse sound coming through which I really love, which has informed a lot of what I do now.
What’s your involvement with running your own labels at the moment?
I was running Out Hear Audio which I’ve now stopped, purely because I don’t have enough time in the day to run it. I am running the Modern Artifacts label, which is more of a rework and edits label, with my partner Vicky. That’s doing really well, so I can’t complain about that. That’s just fun. What I do now with my own productions is just shop it to other people. Like the Yardism EP, that’s come out on Toddla T’s Girl Music label. I prefer that in some ways, that’s nice.
How relevant do you think the record label and the vinyl format are in the wake of the internet?
I think it’s relevant, purely because what’s happened is that since the rise of the digital download, everyone’s saying that vinyl’s dead. It’s not, you just need to remember that things will always change. Like when the cassette came in, and when the CD came in, everyone said vinyl’s gone. And it never does, what it does is it corrects itself and it balances itself out and eventually you get to this point where people are holding onto certain pieces of vinyl. There’s no way of it getting back to selling like it used to but you cut your costs to suit your style, if you know what I mean. Whereas back in the day you’d be selling three or four thousand pieces of vinyl, now you’re probably doing three or four hundred. To do a thousand bits of vinyl now is like… woah! So it’s just the way it is, and once people realise that it gets a bit more comfortable. I just get a bit tired of people moaning. I know it is some people’s livelihoods, but to be honest back in the day you never made that much money from your vinyl. It will probably grow a little bit more from where it is now. It is good that it’s still out there operating as a medium that people can buy.
Ashley will be DJing at Distrikt on Saturday night, it’s free entry and you can view the Facebook event here.